July 2013

America’s Middle Class: Is It in Trouble?

Chart 1. Distribution of Annual Household Income in the United States, 2010 Estimate. (U.S. Census Bureau)

By Loretta Fairchild

One curious detail from the rhetoric of the last two elections was that the political conversation only focused on “the middle class,” as if all sides refused to acknowledge that the poor had any relevance. And since lots of others have bandied the term about, I’m feeling free to jump on the bandwagon here.

The following quote from Foster and Wolfson provides a fairly standard summary of the importance of the middle class:

“The presence of a sizable, well-off middle class is typically presumed to be an important factor in the growth and development of today’s successful industrial economies. The middle class provides much of the labor force for the economy and is a key market for the national product. A large portion of a country’s tax revenue is collected directly or indirectly from the middle class. It also has a special role in the relative political stability these nations have enjoyed. According to Lester Thurow [see their footnote 32,] ‘A healthy middle class is necessary to have a healthy political democracy. A society made up of rich and poor has no mediating group either politically or economically.’”

A Fresh Look at Free Will, Part One: Can We Hold Anyone Responsible for the Boston Marathon Bombings?

By Clay Farris Naff

What caused a pair of bombs to go off at the Boston Marathon on April 15? One correct answer could be a fuse, but that would be unsatisfying. We want to know who is responsible for the atrocity. Much effort is now being made to apportion blame. But what if the answer is no one? What if no one is ever responsible for anything?

Golfing in Nebraska

By Caitlin Hassler

Nebraska is a sanctuary for golfers, and our golf paradise is ranked one of the country’s top 10 golf states by “Golf Digest.” Courses across the state have received national recognition and accolades for their design, scenery and value.

Golfers make their pilgrimage to Nebraska courses for the wide-open spaces, commanding vistas, sprawling natural terrain and diverse playing conditions. The 200 public and semiprivate golf courses span over the differing terrain in the state—whistling, windswept prairies; gently sloping sandhills; lush river valleys; plus a few canyons and national monuments thrown in for good measure.

From across the Political Spectrum, a Call for Immigration Reform

By Ali Noorani

Our nation’s history is one of immigration. It has defined our identity and strengthened our nation culturally, economically, intellectually and spiritually.

As Congress debates immigration reform, the National Immigration Forum seeks to continue this tradition in way that is fiscally and legally responsible, while recognizing the contributions of immigrants to our communities and our country. More and more, voices across the political spectrum are echoing these values and supporting reform.

It Is Not Just Retirees Who Should Be Worried about the Chained CPI for the Social Security COLA

By Al Mumm

If you are of retirement age or approaching it, hopefully you have been getting a lot of information from groups like AARP, The Alliance for Retired Americans (ARA) and perhaps others about the Chained CPI. Chances are if you are under 50, you probably don’t even know what the chained CPI is, but you really need to know all about it and be afraid, be very afraid!

A Different Kind of Water Group

Two moisture probes were installed in this field as part of NEWBA’s 2012 demonstration project. The data from the probes helped the grower make decisions about when to irrigate and how much water to apply.  (Nebraska Water Balance Alliance)

By Marsha Banzhaf

As you look around the table at a Nebraska Water Balance Alliance meeting, you see an interesting group of people. Each has a slightly different reason for being there, but they hope that by working together they can achieve a common goal: finding sustainable and practical ways to improve water management long term.

“NEWBA is a nonprofit organization with no vested water interests. We promote solutions that safeguard our economy and quality of life,” explains Lorre McKeone, the group’s executive director. “We know that long-term solutions can only come through better understanding and cooperation. NEWBA provides a place where constructive conversations can occur and promising strategies can be advanced.”

Thompson v. Heineman: The Lawsuit that Might Delay Keystone XL… Again

Fragile topsoil in the Sandhills is vulnerable to blowouts like this one adjacent to Susan Luebbe’s ranch. (Greg Rohde)

By Kietryn Zychal

Nebraska Gov. Heineman slammed his fist on a table and raised his voice as he said, “Do you mean to tell me that the DEQ doesn’t know what they are talking about and they didn’t do their jobs?”

The governor was addressing a group of Holt and York County residents on Feb. 2, 2012. Most had driven four-and-a-half hours to Lincoln to show him lab results from soil samples taken throughout the Keystone XL reroute that the state Department of Environmental Quality and TransCanada claimed had been “moved out of the Sand Hills.” The landowners paid $600 of their own money to have 11 soil samples analyzed by Midwest Labs of Omaha. Amy Schaffer, daughter of rancher Bruce Boettcher, attempted to show the governor a PowerPoint presentation illustrating that soil on the north shore of the Elkhorn River—deemed outside the Sandhills by an EPA ecoregion map—was as sandy and porous as soil on the south shore of the river inside the area labeled Sandhills. Sample A, taken at the entry point of KXL into Nebraska, was an astounding 87.2 percent sand. The governor was unmoved.

Bison Natural Region

By Francis Moul

They are North America’s largest mammals, shaggy beasts with spindly legs but with surprising speed and amazing strength. If aroused, they can go through a reinforced five-strand fence as if it were paper. They once covered most of North America by the tens of millions but were reduced to a few hundred animals by the beginning of the 20th century. Today, bison may be one important piece to the restoration of successful economic life, pride and wildlife biodiversity on the northern Great Plains.

This is a time of long-term drought that has decimated cattle herds in the northern Great Plains, a time when deep rural counties have lost population over several decades until there is little vitality left. Businesses are closing, young people are leaving and some communities resemble ghost towns. It seems ironic that bison may be one way to begin to reverse this tragic trend.

In Search of Nature and a Cup of Strong Coffee

By Jack Phillips

First light comes late to central Alberta. I had arrived at the Calgary Zoo before dawn on a cold October morning with enough time before class for a hike to the coffee shop. I was there to teach tree ecology to provincial arborists, and my search for coffee put me on a dark, winding path. The zoo was designed according to biomes, and the Canadian Rockies section included steep inclines, boulders and a native arboretum. One could catch glimpses of bison and grizzlies through groves of aspen and pine. The designed sense of nature was enhanced that morning by the concealment of enclosures and the fact that the zoo was not yet open and the lights were off.

Nebraska Public Power District’s New Plan Highlights Benefits of Clean Energy

By Duane Hovorka

On June 14 the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) board of directors approved a new Integrated Resources Plan. For more than a year and a half NPPD staff and board members have studied the many options for meeting the future energy needs of its customer-owners and the many rural public power districts and municipal utilities that buy electricity from NPPD. Those options include both supply options (new power plants, wind farms and energy storage) and demand-side management (energy efficiency, conservation and shifting loads to off-peak times).

The results are eye-opening.

Sonny's Corner: Debating the Death Penalty - Again, Part Two

By Fran Kaye

While we were sitting in Hearing Room 1113, listening to the different speakers, Maryland’s bill to abolish the death penalty was making its way through the state house, en route to successful enactment. Maryland has become the sixth state in six years to do away with capital punishment. Their campaign was spearheaded by Kirk Bloodsworth, the first man in the U.S. to be exonerated and freed from death row by DNA evidence. It’s hard not to be riveted by the nightmare tale of someone condemned to death for a crime he did not commit, with which he had no substantial connection.

Immigration in Nebraska

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